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Meet Dr Frankie: Lessons from the frontline

W Editor

Photography courtesy of Peter Ashenhurst , Rachael Boys

Dr Francesca Jackson-Spence

It taught me to be more streetwise

Bad things happen 

It is easy to be ignorant and think ‘that will never happen to me’, but I saw lots of people, just like me, come to accident and emergency (A&E) with severe injuries from, for example, falling off a bicycle in a park. Now I will always wear a helmet when cycling – especially important on London’s busy streets. 

It also taught me to be more streetwise. I grew up in a small village in Yorkshire, and in A&E I had my eyes opened to what life's like for some children and teens growing up in East London. Teenagers with injuries from gang fights were a regular occurrence and something I’d never seen before.  

I can stay awake all night long

I did my first-ever night shift. I was utterly gobsmacked that I actually made it to morning without feeling like a zombie. I was nervous turning up to work at 10pm and facing finishing at 8am, particularly as I’m a 20-something, going-on-granny who loves an early bedtime and eight hours' sleep. But with an adrenaline burst and a lot of caffeine, I got stuck into work and, before I knew it, it was morning and time for bed.

 I found resilience through sharing on my Instagram

I faced the fear

People assume the scariest part of working through the pandemic was that I was at risk of catching coronavirus. But, actually, it was the unknown that was most frightening. At the beginning, we didn’t know much about coronavirus or how patients would progress through the illness. I was pretty shocked to see people my age, seemingly fit and healthy, deteriorate from Covid-19 and require ventilation in intensive care. Also, I saw elderly patients with co-morbidities who seemed really unwell but, a week later, they'd be discharged from the ward. 

I also found it challenging when, during the peak of Covid-19, patients' families weren’t allowed to come into A&E with them. Patients were frightened to be in the hospital, faced with the unknowns of their health. Some days I would stay longer after my shift finished, just to chat with the patients and help them feel more at ease. I would come home and feel really emotionally exhausted but I found resilience through talking to my friends and colleagues about the cases I’d seen, and by sharing my experiences on Instagram.

I never know what the day will bring

Every shift is different and I had to be on high alert always. One patient may not really need to be in A&E (many could go to their GP), whereas the next might be very unwell and require you to be on your top game.

Teamwork is more important than medical books

When I saw a patient I'd always discuss the case with other, more senior, doctors in the department to ensure I'd covered everything and done all I could for them. 

It really is a team effort: From the amazing nurses who look after the patient directly to the porters who take them to their scans, plus all the radiographers, radiologists and healthcare assistants involved. Patients often thank the doctor or nurse, but a lot more goes on behind the scenes. 

I am more resilient than I realised

My time in A&E was a whirlwind experience. Through the Covid-19 pandemic, we worked through some tough times with long and unscalable hours. Coupled with dealing with some really emotionally challenging cases, it did feel exhausting.

Valuing the simple things boosts morale

We started our shift with half an hour of teaching or a wellness session to discuss and reflect on difficult cases. We even did some yoga together. This helped me to reframe mentally, letting go of anything that upset or stressed me from the previous shift. Even the little things, like someone bringing in cakes on a night shift, would really lift the mood. 

Dr Frankie is a Health Expert Ambassador for Femfresh and will be a regular contributor to W Edit.
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